Designing a Better Economic or Political Solution in Post WWI Germany

By Lindsay Rodriguez, February 27, 2017

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Smithsonian Design Institute

Subject Area

  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

3 x 90 minute class periods: One for research and reading, one for system design, one for presentation to the class and critique.


In the aftermath of WWI, Germany was suffering from a depressed economy, economic sanctions as punishment for the war, and a country that was torn apart both physically and politically. These conditions allowed for the rise of Adolf Hitler. With the hindsight of history, we can look back and see that he was a poor choice for leadership, and many marginalized groups suffered for that choice.  Many students want to know how he would've been elected in the first place, as well as feel very confident that they could never be tricked into voting for someone like him. Students will be asked to empathize with all sides in this activity, figure out why the German people would've voted for Hitler, and design a better solution to their political and economic ills than the election of someone who caused genocide. This is an important lesson for students to be able to connect with other political systems around the world, including regimes in Africa and Asia, as well as a future hypothetical American political situation. Students are encouraged to always think critically and examine political and economic situations from perspectives other than their own to help solidify their argument and to examine evidence presented to them, making them an informed and critical citizen and voter. In this design challenge, students will be asked to solve the problem in a different way than the election of Hitler, who they know will cause the Holocaust. This emotional issue already engages students, who often feel helpless after reading about the atrocities of the Holocaust. In this activity, they will feel empowered to look at history from different angles, examining the economic, social, political, and environmental realities of Post WWI Germany, and they will be encouraged to apply those greater lessons to their own country and community.

National Standards

Students will meet Common Core Standard:
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6  - Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.3  - Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
The design process will be especially beneficial in accessing empathy and problem solving problematic historical events.

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.5 Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:


Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


  • Students will be able to em-pathetically listen to multiple political arguments and use cultural, technological, and historical context to design systemic solutions that solve, or lessen, historic wrongs and make them aware of situations that could lead to discrimination in their own political and economic systems.
  • Students will be able to evaluate primary source documents and empathize with both sides and understand motivations in historical events, while being able to separate fact from opinion.
  • Students will be able to examine multiple points of view on historical events and design a solution that they feel would have worked out better.


Students will need to examine the following primary source documents:
  • Excerpts from Anne Frank's Diary
  • Excerpt from Hitler's speeches
  • Excerpt from economically struggling German
  • Historical accounts of natural resources available



  • Antisemitism: prejudice, hatred of, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. A person who holds such positions is called an "antisemite". It is a form of racism.
  • Economic sanctions: any actions taken by one nation or group of nations to harm the economy of another nation or group, often to force a political change.
  • Hyperinflation: (Investopedia explains Hyperinflation) When associated with depressions, hyperinflation often occurs when there is a large increase in the money supply not supported by gross domestic product (GDP) growth, resulting in an imbalance in the supply and demand for the money. Left unchecked this causes prices to increase, as the currency loses its value.When associated with wars, hyperinflation often occurs when there is a loss of confidence in a currency's ability to maintain its value in the aftermath. Because of this, sellers demand a risk premium to accept the currency, and they do this by raising their prices.One of the most famous examples of hyperinflation occurred in between January 1922 and November 1923. By some estimates, the average price level increased by a factor of 20 billion, doubling every 28 hours.


Background Information: Procedures:   Students will begin by reading primary source documents about the economic situation in Germany following WWI. They will read about economic struggles, they will read speeches by Hitler, and they will read first hand accounts of those harmed by anti-semitism, including Anne Frank. Students will use their knowledge of primary documents to find a solution for post WWI German Economy that doesn't scapegoat or harm any particular groups of people as a solution. Students will examine the economic resources that Germany possessed as well as the restrictions placed on Germany post WWI to design a new solution to their economic crisis. They will work in small groups to design a new system for Germany.  
  • Step 1: Present the Challenge: Germany is floundering in economic sanctions and facing a war-torn country and a world that blames them for world war. Germany needs to design a plan to repair its economic and political system.
  • Step 2: Investigate: Students will use primary source documents to investigate the economic repercussions of the war, the simmering tensions between the German citizens and minority groups, and the Charisma of Hitler’s speech and campaigning.
  • Step 3: Frame/Reframe the Problem: How does Germany repair its economy and its political system without the systematic persecution of marginalized groups? Students will be broken up into small groups of 4 or fewer and asked to design investigate either the political or economic problems more in depth. Ideally, there will be several small groups working on economic solutions and several small groups working on political solutions.
  • Step 4: Generate Possible Solutions: students will generate ideas on how Germany can become a stable society.
  • Step 5: Edit/Develop Ideas: With their knowledge of world events, world cultures, and history, Students will pick the idea or ideas that would have been most historically feasible for the German people to adopt.  They will need to take into account the technology available at the time, cultural attitudes, and resources available to Germany, both in terms of economic resources (what natural resources were available? What trading allies did Germany still have?) and political resources (which groups were held in good standing after the war? What groups participated most in the political process and how might that be balanced?)
  • Step 6: Evaluate Your Process and Ideas: Students will share their ideas with the groups, gather feedback on whether the idea will work without excluding marginalized German groups, whether its economically feasible, and whether its historically feasible.
  • Step 7: Implement the Solution: Students will build a prototype of their system. Since most systems will likely be legal, economic, or Social, they will also be encouraged to make models of causes and effects or models of webs of interconnections between people and ideas. The idea is that students will have a tangible representation of a systemic solution
  • Step 8: Articulate/Reflect: Students will present their final projects to the group and gather feedback. They will then write a reflection about what they learned, how their solutions changed, and how this system of problem solving. Special focus should be placed on empathy and the complicated issues at work in Post WWI Germany to show understanding of the issues, as well as to demonstrate a higher level of critical thinking.
  Discussion Questions:
  • What could have led the Germans to elect someone who openly persecuted minority groups?
  • What are other options the Germans had?
  • Do you feel this could happen again today? Why or why not?
  • Were people in the 1940s that much different than people today? How were their needs similar and different?
  • How can we prevent this situation from happening in the United States today?
  • Why were books banned and burned during the Nazi regime?


Students will be able to speak to the economic, social, political, and environmental realities of Post WWI Germany in a written reflection that accurately sets up the situation that allowed Hitler to be elected.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Students will have more in depth knowledge that allows them to look past Germans as simple villains and will be using facts and not emotional bias when discussing the problems with the solutions that Germans, and the Hitler administration, created. They will be able to pull both specific  lessons from this particular time period as well as general and universal lessons that dictate what drives human need in political and economic situations.

Related Files

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.